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Long-Running San Francisco Musical Revue 'Beach Blanket Babylon' Nears End

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

One of the country's longest-running live comedy revues is closing down in San Francisco on December 31. It's called "Beach Blanket Babylon," famous for its goofy send ups of the rich and famous, costumes and hats. Here's Chloe Veltman of member station KQED.

CHLOE VELTMAN, BYLINE: Renee Lubin has many fond memories of performing in "Beach Blanket Babylon" night after night for 34 years.

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RENEE LUBIN: (As Tina Turner, singing) What's love got to do, got to do with it?

VELTMAN: Like playing Tina Turner in a feral, two-and-a-half-foot-tall wig.

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LUBIN: (As Tina Turner, singing) What's love got to do, got to do with it?

(As Anita Hill, singing) What you want, baby, I got it. What you need, you know I got it.

VELTMAN: And jumping into the role of Anita Hill when the news broke in 1991 about the sexual harassment allegations against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

LUBIN: I had no idea how funny it was going to be. I got to drag Clarence Thomas all around the stage singing "Respect." That was a blast.

VELTMAN: In a KQED TV documentary from the mid-1980s, the late impresario Steve Silver says he got the idea for "Beach Blanket" in 1973 after watching a busker ply his trade outside a San Francisco restaurant.

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STEVE SILVER: And I said, hey, wait a minute. Let's go back to my house, put some costumes on that I had from Rent-A-Freak and come back and do an act, see if we can make some money.

VELTMAN: Silver and his buddies made 25 bucks that night. The next, they made 80. The following year, "Beach Blanket Babylon" was born. From the get go, the show was unapologetically silly.

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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Christmas tree, singing) Me and my shadow strolling down the avenue.

VELTMAN: Grainy black-and-white footage from an early performance reveals a singing, tap-dancing Christmas tree.

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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Christmas tree, singing) Me and my shadow...

VELTMAN: The show soon became a San Francisco institution, with its own theater and a street named after it - Beach Blanket Babylon Boulevard. Politicians and celebrities - from California Governor Gavin Newsom to David Bowie - were fans.

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VELTMAN: As were Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. The performance the royal couple witnessed in 1983 featured an actor wearing one of the show's huge signature hats, decorated for the occasion with a scaled-down replica of Buckingham Palace.

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VELTMAN: Over the years, the production developed a reputation not just for its punch-drunk visuals but also for skewering cultural and political figures - Democrats and Republicans. Donald Trump has been a "Beach Blanket" fixture for decades. Here's a recent sketch based on the Sound of Music, satirizing the 45th U.S. president along with his entire family.

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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, singing) So there's nothing more to say.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character, singing) Laws, he'll change them every day.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS #1: (As characters, singing) T for Trumps, we're here to stay.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character, singing) That will bring us tons of dough, dough, dough.

JO SCHUMAN SILVER: My late husband Steve Silver, whose show it is, said to me, you're going to know when it's the right time for the show to be done.

VELTMAN: That's Steve Silver's widow, Jo Schuman Silver. She took over producing "Beach Blanket" after her husband died of complications from AIDS in 1995. She says the revue is closing for creative rather than financial reasons.

SCHUMAN SILVER: I just never wanted the show to get old or not be fabulous and popular and on top.

VELTMAN: Soon after she announced it was curtains earlier this year, "Beach Blanket Babylon" sold out the rest of its run. The final performance is New Year's Eve.

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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character, singing) To tell you...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS #2: (As characters, singing) San Francisco, open your Golden Gate...

VELTMAN: For NPR News, I'm Chloe Veltman in San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.